A few weeks ago I was cogitating, contemplating, reflecting, and generally ruminating on "this and that" when I happened to muse out loud (well, in a column) as to how many microcontrollers I might come into close contact with in a typical day.
I'm not talking only about microcontrollers in equipment that I directly interface with, such as the microwave oven and my cell phone and suchlike, but also all of the little rascals that are embedded in the various systems that surround me – lighting, air conditioning, my truck, and so forth.
Some time ago – I can’t really remember when, but let's say 15 years – I remember reading that the average person comes into contact with – or is affected by – around 20 or 30 microcontrollers with which he or she comes in close proximity each day.
But 15 years is an eternity when you think how fast things are moving. As one simple example, it was almost exactly 15 years ago (give or take a couple of days) as I pen these words that the first publically-shared picture via a cell phone took place.
On June 11, 1997, Philippe Kahn used his "home-grown" system involving wireless software and a camera integrated into his cell phone to share pictures from the maternity ward where his daughter Sophie was born. He wirelessly transmitted his cell phone pictures to more than 2,000 family, friends, and associates around the world.
The world's first commercial offering of a camera and video cell phone came in 1999 in thre form of the VP-210 from a Japanese company called Kyrocera. Since this was originally intended, for face-to-face communication, the lens is located on the front of the phone. Due to the fact that the controls were also on the front of the phone, it was hard for users to capture any images except of themselves (grin).
In the early 2000s – about 10 years ago at the time of this writing – cell phones with cameras were pretty darned expensive. Also the picture resolution and quality sucked. I remember telling my colleagues that all I wanted from my cell phone was the ability to make and receive calls. I had no idea about the possibilities inherent in things like iPhones and Android phones with MP3 players and GPS and …
But we digress… my original musings prompted one reader to email me saying the following:
The question you ask is one I have been actively asking the non-techie people in my circle. The subject is brought up by me usually when I'm asked what is a microprocessor and what does it do? (My friends know that I use with them a lot).
Talk about a leading question… I say show me your phone, and they comply but are puzzled. I then ask to see their iPod (if any) and then their car keys.
Then I give them a rough guess as to how many microprocessors they have in hand or have control over.
They get the cell phone and iPod readily enough, but are shocked when I go through all the systems in the car that employ microcontrollers.
As for the quantity of microcontrollers in my life, I started counting each item around me in my daily activities. After only allowing for one MCU per device (I was not about to tear down everything to count them) I stopped at 45 because I was losing track of what was counted already.
It was my turn to be shocked.
So, what do you think? How many processors in the form of microprocessors, microcontrollers, and digital signal processors to we come into close contact with each day? Let's include both standalone devices and also hard processor cores in other devices; so, in the case of a System-on-Chip that might contain multiple processors in a smart phone, for example, let's count all of these processors individually.
In the case of cars, I'm not an expert here, but I would love to know the range of processors one might expect to find in typical modern low-end, mid-range, high-end, and luxury vehicles.
So, what say you? Can you add anything to this conversation?
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